Soaring Higher Than Ever Before – Lakecia Benjamin on “Phoenix”

Written by | Concerts, News

Lakecia Benjamin’s fourth studio album “Phoenix” was released in January, 2023 on Whirlwind Recordings. This one is the most ambitious yet with special guests (the late) Wayne Shorter and Diane Reeves, and produced by the acclaimed drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. This is her first recording after a near-fatal car accident, which she had in September 2021. “Phoenix” is her rebirth since that crash.

“Phoenix” begins with police sirens and gunshots as the voice of activist Angela Davis steps in, saying “Revolutionary hope resides precisely among those women who have been abandoned by history. This is not the way things are supposed to be. This might be the way things are now, but they are not supposed to be this way. I truly believe, and men should applaud this, that this is the era of women.”

After these words, Benjamin rises up lowly and slowly on alto saxophone in an Egyptian-sounding aura. This is “Amerikkan Skin,” a tantalizing, lowdown and sultry instrumental as a powerful opener.

Photo by Elizabeth Leitzel

And so for the rest of the album, led off by Angela Davis’ encouragement, Benjamin responds to the call and proceeds to lead her players through 13 solid tracks that are mostly and unmistakably her own blend of uplifting post-bop and straight-ahead jazz (“New Morning,” “Moods,” “Rebirth”), though the title-track “Phoenix” and “Jubillation,” are closer to the spiritual jazz side, and there is a jazz-pop ballad (‘Mercy” sung by Diana Reeves); although “Trane” is a devotional salute to possibly her most significant influences (both John and Alice Coltrane), with this album she has taken herself beyond the tributes. She has risen above previous albums and now soars more commandingly among her peers and predecessors alike. It should be noted the saxophonist Gary Bartz was one of her earliest mentors in her training of technical exercise techniques, and this spiritual jazz master has left a definitive imprint too. The closing track, “Basquiat” is a nod to Ornette Coleman and jazz as still the truest reigning art music.

Overall, and boosted by the spoken-word interludes besides Angela Davis, there is the voice of the saxophonist Wayne Shorter on spaced-out and cut-up “Supernova,” and poet Sonia Sanchez (“Peace is a Haiku Song”); with these vocals (not forgetting Diane Reeves) there is a clear message of hope and determination to create a better world than the one that we have accepted as the norm in our times.

Benjamin looks regal on the cover of the album with gold neck-plates and in a sparkling gold-feathered cape and spiky pants that all match her alto saxophone. There is defiance and self-confidence most apparent in her composure that is evident not only in this portrait, but on this recording, more than ever.

Benjamin is supported by her group at its core, a quartet including Victor Gould (piano), E.J. Strickland (drums), and Ivan Taylor (bass). They are called Phoenix for touring Europe in October.

Lakecia Benjamin & Phoenix plays dates and venues listed below in October 2023.

Monday, Oct 2—Akbank Jazz Festival, Istanbul, Turkey
Wednesday, Oct 4—Enjoy Jazz / Alte Feuerwache, Mannheim, Germany
Friday, Oct. 6—Flagey, Brussels, Belgium
Saturday, Oct. 7—Auditorio de Espinho, Espinho, Portugal
Sunday, Oct. 8—Jazz AO Centro, Coimbra, Portugal
Thursday, Oct. 12—Jazz sur son 31, Toulouse, France
Friday, Oct. 13—L’Atelier du Neez, Jurancon, France
Saturday, Oct. 14—La Rochelle Jazz Festival, La Rochelle, France
Monday, Oct. 16—Vilnius Jazz Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania
Tuesday, Oct. 17—Stockholm Jazz Festival, Stockholm, Sweden
Thursday, Oct. 19—Zagreb Jazz Festival, Zagreb, Croatia
Saturday, Oct. 21—Bratislava Jazz Days, Bratislava, Slovakia
Wednesday, Oct. 25—Jazz Dock, Prague, Czech Republic
Thursday, Oct. 26—Nuejazz Festival, Nuremburg, Germany
Friday, Oct. 27—Jazzmi Festival, Milan, Italy
Sunday, Oct. 29—Teatro Lauro Rossi di Macerata, Macerata, Italy

Last modified: September 11, 2023